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Posts Tagged ‘Harm Magnification’

A great many laws in a country, like many physicians, is a sign of malady.  –  usually attributed to Voltaire

Governments are quick to claim that new and ever-more-intrusive laws solve social problems, but in actuality the opposite is true:  many more social problems are caused by such laws than solved by them, and social progress generally comes from the repeal of oppressive laws rather than the installation of new ones.  How many readers remember the expression “rolling queers”?  At one time, obviously-gay men were more often targeted by muggers than other men were, and even some hoodlums who might not dare to mug anyone else might troll gay-bar areas for potential targets.  In the early ‘80s gay men of my acquaintance considered it enough of a hazard that they took special precautions against it, yet only 25 years later it has become vastly less common.  I’m sure there are some who believe that “hate crime” laws are responsible for this reduction, but this is nonsense; “rolling” had already decreased dramatically long before “hate crime” laws even became popular, much less expanded to include homosexuals.  The reason gay men were targeted for “rolling” wasn’t primarily due to hate but rather to opportunity; while homosexuality was still against the law in many states and gay men were commonly persecuted by police, they were far less likely than others to report the crime and so were “safe” targets even for young bullies who were not brave enough to attack anyone else.  It was not the installation of laws which decreased “rolling” but rather the removal of laws which criminalized homosexuality.

Similarly, prostitutes are victimized by opportunistic criminals and even rapists and serial killers for the simple reason that they perceive us as “safe targets” who, like gay men in the past, dare not go to the police for fear of worse victimization than that suffered at the hands of the criminals.  New “anti-trafficking” laws in many states and countries (many of them with a Swedish flavor) are touted as efforts to “protect” us, but in fact the existing laws are the main source of danger, and more laws will only increase the peril.  But declaring “open season” on marginalized groups is not the only way in which oppressive laws create crime; alcohol Prohibition in the United States essentially created the Mafia, and the drug prohibition nearly every country inflicts on its citizens has created the powerful drug cartels from which so much of the violence of the modern world springs.  Nor is crime the only social ill which springs from prohibitionism; illegal drugs (like the illegal liquor of the 1920s) are often impure and sometimes even poisonous because drug buyers, like prostitutes, dare not go to the police if they are harmed by a suppressed transaction.

The principle of “harm reduction” is the recognition of the phenomenon we’re discussing here, that laws against consensual behaviors nearly always do more harm than good.  Those who advocate harm reduction policies point out that tolerating “vices” not only keeps those who partake in them safer, but also minimizes the damage done to society at large (such as the incalculable damage done to the American economy, justice system and civil liberties by the institutional madness called the “War on Drugs”).  But because lawheads believe laws to always be good, most governments are hostile to harm reduction policies and in fact practice a philosophy we might call “harm magnification”, the stubborn support of prohibitionist laws even in cases where they can be proven to harm both individuals and society as a whole.  The United States is the most aggressive proponent of “harm magnification” policies, but its neighbor to the north is apparently dead-set on taking the title; the Canadian federal government is involved in a battle to reinstate prohibitionist laws which have been clearly demonstrated to endanger prostitutes, and last Thursday (May 12th) the government opened the latest chapter in its repeated efforts to close down a harm-reduction project for heroin addicts:

…Defenders of [North America’s first and only legal injection site]…say it [provides] a form of health care, and that health care is a provincial matter under Canada’s constitution.  The federal government counters that its writ trumps provincial rights because heroin is a federally banned substance.  The case opens before the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Thursday, and has drawn international attention…As of 2009, there were 65 injection facilities in 27 cities in Canada, Australia, and western Europe, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal.  The World Health Organization has called them a “priority intervention” in slowing the spread of AIDS via infected needles.  Insite [the Vancouver facility] receives more than 800 visitors a day on average and has supervised more than a million injections since it opened in 2003, and none has caused a death, according to Insite supervisor Russ Maynard.  Addicts are given clean needles and sterilized water in which to mix their drug.  They bring their own drugs and inject at 12 stainless steel alcoves with mirrors on the walls so nurses on a raised platform can see them…When Insite opened, the Bush administration’s drug czar, John Walters, called it “state-sponsored suicide,” and after a Conservative government was elected in Canada in 2006, it moved to close the site.  Arguing for the government before the British Columbia Court of Appeal in 2009, Robert Frater rejected the notion that Insite was a form of health care, because it was not the ban on drugs that harms addicts…Supporters of Insite point to studies showing sharp drops in deaths from drug overdoses in the district since the drug-injection program was launched…Julio Montaner, president of the International AIDS Society, an association of professionals in the AIDS field, has said the area’s AIDS rate is the worst in the developed world, and can be designated an epidemic.  Montaner, a Canadian, accuses his government of ignoring scientific research and sabotaging a health initiative for society’s weakest citizens…

The Canadian government’s argument in this case, as in its support for anti-whore laws, is a blatant lie.  The ban on drugs indisputably harms addicts for the same reason prostitution bans harm whores:  it pushes them into the shadows and cuts them off from the legal protections everyone else takes for granted.  And that’s not even counting the economic costs to the taxpayers, nor the social cost  which results from empowering government thugs to pry into citizens’ private lives and violate their civil rights in order to accuse them of “crimes” which have no victims.

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